If you feel you must eat before bed, are there ways to snack smart?
We’ve been told for many years that eating straight before bed isn’t the healthiest option and, if your diet and exercise routine is on point there shouldn’t be a reason to take on extra calories right before you head up to bed. But the truth is that many of us have lifestyles that don’t allow for regimented mealtimes – particularly for those of who work long hours and have to sneak in nightly exercise to keep in shape.
Ideally, your evening meal should be filling and varied enough to see you through until bedtime, but if snacking becomes necessary, it’s important to know that some bedtime snacks are healthier than others. In fact, some dieticians believe that certain snacks could even benefit your sleep, especially if you workout regularly, as these foods can add key nutrients to your diet and help muscle repair and recovery while you sleep.
Of course, some foods can disrupt your sleep when eating before bed, such as junk foods containing high levels of sugar and processed carbs, which can cause an unwanted spike in energy. Likewise, spicy foods should be avoided before bed to avoid the risk of acid reflux.
But it’s clear that the topic of midnight snacks is not all black and white. There are some foods that won’t inhibit your sleep quality in the same way and eating something can be better than nothing if you wish to avoid a disturbed night’s sleep caused by a calorie deficit. So what should you be reaching for when the hunger pangs strike late at night?
Focus on high-fibre carbs and protein
As the evening draws on, the best foods to opt for are slow-digesting proteins and high-fibre carbohydrates. The protein will promote healthy muscle repair while you sleep, while high-fibre carbs will help you avoid the sugar spike associated with carbs you digest quickly.
Some examples of slow-digesting carbs include oats, brown rice, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Slow-digesting proteins include casein, which is found in dairy products like yoghurt and cheese as well as in protein powder. Peanut butter is also a good option thanks to its high level of tryptophan, which helps your brain and muscles relax.
Here are some examples of a healthy evening snack:
- Greek yoghurt and berries
- Peanut butter on whole grain toast
- Protein shake
- Cheese and fruit
- Almond butter and fruit
What time is the right time for a snack?
Whether a meal or a snack, the aim should always be for balanced nutrition. But when it comes to late night snacking, you need to think about timing as well as food content.
The optimum time for a snack varies from person to person; some people may be able to eat just before bed without suffering any consequences, while others may have a two hour cut off point to avoid acid reflux. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to avoid eating immediately before falling asleep, as this doesn’t give you any time to digest the food you’ve just eaten.
Can specific foods actually benefit your sleep?
The relationship between what we eat and how we sleep is well documented, so it should come as no surprise that certain foods can promote a better night’s sleep than others. Some foods contain elements that promote sleep such as melatonin, the very hormone that makes us feel tired.
For example, foods alike almonds and kiwi fruit contain melatonin and magnesium, both of which help you relax and promote better sleep. Meanwhile, milk is an example of a slow-digesting protein that also contains both tryptophan and melatonin.
It’s important to give yourself enough time to digest your food before going to sleep, whatever you’re snacking on. Being smarter about your evening night snacking can help you enjoy better sleep in the long run.